“We are a part of the transformation Finland is witnessing”, Anne Badan – Co-founder of The Shortcut

We couldn’t hide our surprise when Anne told us “I wish my organization would not exist”. But don’t get it wrong. Anne loves what she’s doing and the people around her. She just expresses her honest view on the problem they are solving – the mismatch of talents in the Finnish job market.

I enjoy creating new things and solving problems

I know a lot of people want to be their own boss and create their own company but that was never the case for me. When I speak in public I always start off by saying that I am an accidental Entrepreneur. It is Finland that made me into one.

My background is in international and development studies. My career consists of various high-level international roles with Formula 1, the World Economic Forum, Fortune 500 companies and was involved in large governmental contracts just before the move to Finland…I’ve always been quite creative in identifying needs and turning that into revenue generators. Hence my expertise, being strong in business development and partnerships. I enjoy challenges that try answering a customer’s need or solving big societal problems.

When you’re building your career on your CV, you can be stuck not contributing meaningfully to something you care about

I had the tendency of accepting jobs for specific challenges but, back in the days when I was working, staying less than three years at one place was making you look unstable or non-committal. So I did stay sometimes in positions longer than I wanted without being highly motivated. In situations like these, it can be hard to find the energy to go to work in the morning. I often wondered, “what the heck am I doing with my life ?”. It was hard to tell what impact I had made.

If you think of some countries, social pressures, convention, different definitions of success, people don’t have the same luxury of a system that supports them in a way that lets people figure out who they are. I admire the freedom people have in Finland to invent themselves at such an early age. And it’s good to see that the current generation has so much more consciousness for what they want in their lives and the impact of their actions.

Even though my career looked very glamorous in the past, it didn’t give me the same sense of meaning as I’m experiencing these days. I did not see the work I did in big corporations as any more of an achievement than what we have done here at The Shortcut. I realized when you’re building your career just to polish your CV, you’re stuck on the edge of doing what you want but not always contributing meaningfully to something you care deeply about.

If you can’t find what you want, you have to build it for yourself

With these jobs and a high profile career ahead of me, I had no reason to think about becoming an entrepreneur. But necessity is the mother of invention. If you can’t find what you want, you have to build it for yourself. So when I came to Finland for the first time around 2007-2008 with my spouse, to be honest, I didn’t really like it. There was nothing in the country that was remotely close to what I used to do or wanted. Yet it gave me the perspective. I was searching for meanings and a way to make bigger impacts. That’s how I made my way into philanthropy. So my business – A2B Philanthropy was born as the combination of all my previous experiences and the unique skills I stacked over the years.

I started building social impact programs for individuals who wanted to donate in a smarter and more sustainable way to socio-economic causes. The early adopters of impact investing in many ways. The private donors wanted to give money in a different way than what traditional established philanthropic families and foundations used to. I wanted to support new donors to work the way they conduct their businesses, based on results and impact measurements.

Back then this concept was not so visible or adopted with sustainable giving in mind. Now successful entrepreneurs such as Pierre Omidyar (eBay) or Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) are pioneering the way for more business leaders to chime in. Finland and its welfare society with great tax contributions doesn’t encourage philanthropists like in other parts of the world. Therefore my activities and customers were mainly outside of Finland.

On another side, I was also focusing on what I call “collective impact” which is about building projects where multiple stakeholders find solutions to problems that cannot be seen and solved in an isolated way. I created several projects with Aalto Social Impact, Aalto University, World Design Capital, Women’s Bank and more.

People with qualifications couldn’t socially or professionally integrate

I realized in Finland there wasn’t a business climate for the kind of job that I prefered. Between 2008 and 2015, I kept hearing about talented people moving to Finland but not feeling fully optimized skill-wise or contributing to the country’s economy. These people had PhDs and master degrees but without Finnish, there was barely any chance you would even get work in a restaurant. People with all the right qualifications couldn’t socially or professionally integrate easily. That’s when The Shortcut was born – to solve this problem. We focus on tech and startups as they aim at high growth and being global – so language is not a barrier.

The Shortcut was built from within. Since the beginning, we received support from the Finnish entrepreneurship ecosystem, AaltoES, Junction, Slush, Wave Ventures, and all the great influencers in the background. Everything the young students had built was fantastic except for the fact that it was not fully a representation of the diversity in Finnish society.

A need to serve the rest of Finnish society

For example, AaltoES was the grassroots movement which founded the entrepreneur mindset for students behind our startup community. But it’s all very homogeneous; it can be hard for a non-Finn to break-in. We felt the need for another organization that would serve the rest of Finnish society while maintaining the same fundamentals..

It’s all about seeding potential and growing it so that it turns into something positive. Our mission is to bring in as many people as possible and help them find meaningful careers. We want to show people things they didn’t know they had by aligning them with their potential and aspiration. We measure our growth by checking if each of our activities has a triple-win impact – win for individuals, for businesses, and for Finnish society.

We started in 2015-2016, around the time of the refugee crisis which brought people facing the issue I’ve mentioned but in a particularly acute way. There have obviously been refugee crises before and there will likely be again but beyond that, there are plenty of first and second-generation immigrants who are also not properly socially or professionally integrated.

I’ve never thought I would stay this long

To be honest, I thought I would just build the base and leave it to the community. Like our sister organizations where there should be a takeover of a new leader every two or three years. Now I’m still here because I want to make sure The Shortcut continues to grow sustainably.

When we started, I never thought about what we would become ten years down the line. I just saw a problem and wanted to do something about it.

There's still a lot to be done

However, the demand for international talents, especially in tech, to boost the competitive advantage of businesses in Finland seems to only increase. We don’t have enough workforce in Finland to support the growth of the industry. Not all companies are looking in the right place and talent acceleration is necessary. So we need to do more than what we’re doing now.

There is also a relatively high untapped demography of immigrants and international students already living here. Many Finns and foreigners bring their spouses from abroad. The aspect of retention, in this case, should not be ignored. That’s why we focus on developing training programs to help people upscale their skills to get jobs and consider IT skills or the tech industry in general as a way to move forward in their careers.

Be comfortable with the unknown and uncontrollable

I’ve been here longer than I initially thought, yet I have learned that every stage brings discovery. I have built things before but I have never been present at all stages from inception up to scale. I don’t believe that any entrepreneur building an organization for the first time knows what is ahead of him or her. That is where the idea of learning with the flow comes from. What I have in my head and what happens, in reality, can be very close but it will not always be the same. There are too many unknowns to consider.

Everything is about serendipity, the right time and the right person – who you have crossed paths with at any given time. Everyone who has contributed to The Shortcut has been there for a reason. You cannot plan these encounters and you will not know who else you’re going to meet along the way. Again, the journey is full of unknowns. There’s got to be a balance struck between what you can control (using the right tools or building the right products) and the uncontrollable.

I am not a feminist / I am all for gender equality

I am interested in empowering women, not because I am a feminist, but because I believe that the only thing that matters is your competencies, not gender. I’m proud of the fact that our team comprises more than 50% talented women but don’t think it makes any difference. I would rather focus on quality.

I don’t want to be an advocate for that but would much rather push women to continue and focus on the reality that there is no difference when it comes to professional skills. I definitely believe there is a misrepresentation of women in the tech community around the world but it doesn’t have to be centered around the gender topic. We at The Shortcut promote diversity instead because we want to break the homogeneity in Finland.

The extra layer of responsibility

As an entrepreneur, you have to take responsibility for your people. You have to make sure they feel equally important, equally contributing, happy and appreciated throughout different transition points. Even though sometimes it means dealing with uncertainties and worries by yourself. I do have sleepless nights pondering over the next move and whether the work is going in the right direction.

Another difficulty with entrepreneurship is not being able to switch off. I worry about the team all the time. There are days I go home feeling bad after a tough decision or thinking I could have done better. It’s often the case that entrepreneurs work overtime without realizing they are burning the candle at both ends. Here’s when a checkup or prompt from others (your business partner, employees, or even your spouse) is much appreciated.

What’s hard, at least for me, is obviously wanting to be a nice leader but sometimes having to trade that for tougher decisions that aren’t always easy to live with. Sometimes I can be quite issue-driven when at the same time, I should be paying more attention to the people. People will not always understand your decision because they’re not aware of all the perspectives.

Don’t second-guess or worry too much about the consequences

There can also be a lot of changes when it comes to scaling and it’s important to recognize and get support when moving into a new phase. I’m very happy for all the board members and groups of individuals that have helped shepherd the direction of the organization. This year, we have a newly appointed board of prominent individuals who will keep The Shortcut in check and help us build it to the next level.

Other than that, I’ve learned that you need the confidence to take a leap of faith sometimes without too much second-guessing and knowing what the consequences are. This goes back to the idea of learning from the flow and not trying to over-control things.

I’m not trying to build something that will last forever

I realized that it has been four years now since we started The Shortcut and we have managed to run it efficiently. Whether we’re non-profit or not, I’m very proud knowing that we are servicing a need and we have the ability to maintain our focus on our mission and impact.

I’m also proud that we do things differently here and it works. Unlike other entrepreneurs, I’m not trying to build something forever. I want there to be no need for what we’re doing. The day the problem is fixed, we don’t need to exist and that would be fantastic! It would mean the issue of talent shortage will be solved. Everyone would have equal opportunities in the Finnish job market and language will not be a barrier any longer.

Ideas are overrated, it’s all about execution

When you start, it’s not about making a PowerPoint pitch to show everyone. Just start! Try it out on different people, see if any of them can kill your idea before you properly start it. If nobody can, then consider continuing.

Too often people think they have great ideas but ideas are usually overrated. It’s all about execution and how you make it a reality. And until you start you won’t know. But think carefully before you start because you’ve got to be committed and dedicated enough throughout the journey.

But then again, my way is not your way. Who am I to give you advice or judge? Do it for yourself and you’ll figure out how committed you are. Just place close attention to what you have the capacity for and ability to commit to.

The entrepreneurial mindset is a must

You need the entrepreneurial mindset to start a business. It’s not for everybody. I’m not entirely sure if it’s something one can learn or train but I do know you don’t need to have all the skills or know exactly how to run an enterprise to start. However, you still need the initial foundation and the support of those around you. As well as to ensure that the business is successful and not all about just one person.

Entrepreneurship is just like The Shortcut. It’s open to anyone but it’s not for everyone. Not everyone is going to be interested in tech or startups or high-growth companies. So that’s also fine but there’s only one way to truly find out – giving it a try. I’ve certainly been surprised, and I think people can surprise themselves.

Finland’s becoming a much more attractive place for the rest of the world

I’m very happy and proud to see Finland is changing, especially the feeling that we are a part of that transformation. The Shortcut is at the junction between the Finnish economy and social development. We are contributing to change.

The country is becoming a much more attractive place for the rest of the world, and that’s not a bad thing, so I’m excited to see where this societal transformation will lead us. Who knows how international the country will become? Perhaps that’s how The Shortcut will evolve in the future; less about the need for integration but something different yet comparable.

Anne is the co-founder and CEO of The Shortcut – a community-driven organization that promotes diversity as an engine for growth. For Anne, the only mission worth pursuing of an organization is to offer solutions to a real problem.

Edited by

Isaac Pound

Isaac Pound

Editor at Entrepreneurs of Finland - Isaac is a journalist who hopes to help improve equality, environmental sustainability and make the world a happier place at the same time.
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